WVU basketball: Key stretch starts with win at Texas Tech
LUBBOCK, Texas -- West Virginia started a season-shaping stretch of its schedule Saturday with the sort of performance it will need to repeat if the Mountaineers are to play in the postseason for a 10th straight season.
WVU made 10 of 18 3-point attempts and shot a season-high 56.5 percent from the floor to survive turnovers, fouls and Texas Tech rallies for a 77-61 win before 8,407 at the United Spirit Arena.
"We put ourselves in such a bad situation that us coming out every game with a certain intensity will mean a lot," said Gary Browne, who had 11 points and three steals. "Not many teams can get down like us and come back, but we executed (Saturday) and we did the things we had to do on defense. We had them in the first half and we let them come back, but I think we did a great job handling that."
Eron Harris scored 15 of his game-high 18 points in the second half to lead three scorers in double figures. Aaric Murray had 10 points off the bench, his third straight game in double figures for the first time this season. Juwan Staten, Terry Henderson and Deniz Kilicli each had nine points.
Harris was 4-for-7 from the floor and 3-for-5 from 3-point range in the second half. He missed all four of his 3-point attempts in the first half.
"My first half was bad and I knew my role was to put shots in the basket from 3," he said. "I couldn't stop shooting because shooters don't stop. I got my head in it and started making shots, and when I got going I felt my teammates started shooting better."
WVU shot 65 percent in the second half, the best percentage in a half this season, and closed with a flurry. Harris and Brown made consecutive 3s late to put away the Red Raiders. Browne was shooting 15.9 percent behind the line and had made just two the previous 12 games. He was 3-for-3 against TTU.
"I felt like they were trying to disrespect me and give me open shots," Browne said.
The Mountaineers (10-11, 3-5 Big 12) won their second conference road game at the start of a stretch in which they play three straight games and four out of five against teams with them in the bottom four spots of the conference.
Ty Nurse led the Red Raiders (9-10, 2-6) with 14 points and Jaye Crockett added 13. Josh Gray and Jordan Tolbert both had 10.
The teams combined for 40 turnovers, with TTU finishing with a season-high 22, as well as 46 fouls and 41 free-throw attempts.
WVU, up by 12 points early in the first half and just three at halftime, never trailed and tried to make a move in the middle of the second half.
Harris made a 3 and WVU kept the ball because of a TTU foul under the basket. Staten made a free throw at the end of that possession and then dunked after a steal seconds later. The Red Raiders needed a timeout down 48-38 with 12:50 to go.
The Red Raiders responded and made three straight shots and were back to 53-49 after two free throws. That came in a stretch where the teams combined to score 13 straight points at the line amid the game's many fouls. WVU went five minutes without a basket, but Murray scored inside to make it 59-51. WVU had a chance to go back up at least 10 points again, but Dominique Rutledge threw a pass to the defense for a layup.
It was soon down to four points, but WVU forced a turnover and Harris made a 3 to push the lead to 62-55. WVU stole the ball again and Browne hit a 3 to go ahead 65-55 with 4:40 to go. The Mountaineers would end the suspense with layups on the other end of two more turnovers for a 69-55 lead.
"In all honesty, we came here thinking we were going to see a 2-3 zone," said Coach Bob Huggins, who won his 130th game at WVU, half of which happened away from home.
"We saw a little bit of it, but not much. You don't spend as much time on other things because you can't do everything, but we're good when we spread people out. That's when we can make some shots and we have to make some shots to get them spread."
The Mountaineers had control early and needed just 5:16 to take a double-digit lead for the fourth time in Big 12 play and the third time in a conference road game. Different players made shots on the first three possessions and Kilicli and Murray both had two baskets as part of a 6-for-9 start.
After Jabarie Hinds missed a layup after a steal, Murray, who had chased Hinds to the basket, followed the miss with a tip-in for a 13-2 lead at the 14:44 mark. The lead would grow to be as large as 16-4 and the Red Raiders, who made their first shot, were just 1-for-5 from the floor and had only one rebound.
It might have been much worse if not for WVU's turnover trouble. Texas Tech had seven that went for seven WVU points, but the Mountaineers had given away six possessions with turnovers, including three on inbound plays under their own basket.
TTU finally settled and Crockett, the team's leading scorer and the league's reigning sixth man of the year, scored seven straight points with a 3, a dunk and two free throws during a 10-0 run. Kevin Noreen ended that with a 3 as WVU had an unlikely stretch where five straight baskets and 7 of 8 shots were 3s. WVU actually made three in a row and Henderson's second of the game pushed the lead to 25-18.
The lead was just 34-31 at the half, though, and not without help from WVU. Huggins called a timeout with 58 seconds left to set something up, but Keaton Miles had a quick shot smothered in the paint and the possession wandered before TTU kicked the ball out of bounds with two seconds on the shot clock.
The kick reset the shot clock to 15 seconds, but WVU didn't realize it and Noreen missed badly on a hurried 3. Nurse beat the halftime buzzer with his fifth 3 of the season.
It wasn't an artistic first half because of the 27 fouls and 24 turnovers, but both teams shot well. WVU was 13-for-26 and made 6 of 12 3-point attempts. TTU shot 10-for-21 and 2-for-3. Yet the Red Raiders had 12 turnovers for 11 WVU points and WVU had 12 turnovers for 13 TTU points. The Mountaineers had an 11-2 edge in second-chance points, but TTU had a 9-2 scoring edge on free throws.
"There are a lot of things these guys show me that I never thought I'd see," Huggins said. "We did such boneheaded things. We kind of had the game going the way we wanted the game to go, but we kept throwing the ball to them.
"We continue to do things to shoot ourselves in the foot. But we came out in the second half and took pretty good care of the ball. The only time they made a run, we threw the ball away twice."